Avian Behavior International visitors can hang out with Kipling, a goofy, endearing Southern Ground Hornbill.
Hillary Hankey has lived with psittacines since she was 11 years old. She bought her first budgie and then “quickly amassed a bedroom full of birds.?Her first large parrot, a triton cockatoo, was purchased at age 20 while she was in college studying to be a veterinarian. She became so fascinated with positive reinforcement training that once she graduated with her Bachelor? she changed the course of her career. She is the owner of Avian Behavior International (ABI), a 20-acre training ranch that is tucked away in a pocket of San Diego county near Valley Center.
When asked her all time favorite species of bird to work with Hankey? response was quick: hornbills. “Any kind,?she adds. “The Asiatics, the Africans, the terrestrial or the arboreal species. I adore them all. Kipling, our ground hornbill has shown uncanny intelligence, and it has been an incredible experience to allow him the time and space to develop his problem solving skills.?
One amazing experience ABI offers are Hornbill Hikes, where you can enjoy a stroll with Kipling, a Southern Ground Hornbill, through the hills of Southern California and learn about the unique story of the Southern Ground Hornbill and Kipling? role in their preservation.
ABI also produces contracted free flying bird shows for different facilities as well as onsite. Visitors to the ranch also can schedule adventures with various species of parrots, raptors, an African crowned crane and the hornbill.
The ABI offers practical training lessons, too. “We also have a program that we just started here at the ranch that allows guests to be an animal trainer for a day, where they can see what a day in the life of trainer is like, but also affords some animal enthusiasts the opportunity to work with us in some of our training sessions with the birds like our African White Necked Ravens, as well as our other sessions,?she said.
“This was actually a suggestion from a guest that enjoyed one of our parrot behavior workshops so much that he wanted to come back for more,?she added. “We have also enjoyed tremendous community support in developing offsite programs with our fully flighted crew, from fundraisers to community groups, museum classrooms and private encounters for those that just want to experience birds up close and learn a little bit more about them and their natural history.?lt;/span>
A hyacinth macaw interacts with ABI visitors.
One of the most difficult training hurdles Hankey has experienced was with her African Crowned Crane for a conservation-focused photo shoot with a documentarian. “We essentially had to work with her ahead of time to be comfortable in any situation we could think of,?Hankey said. “One day she was flying 30 yards side by side to a running bushman and the next she has flying out of a giant hollow in a tree and up to her cue on a platform with a melee of distraction around her.?
Training a bird to be flexible is very important for unfamiliar circumstances, Hankey said. “It takes a lot of preparation from the bird’s early beginnings and forces you to put a lot of trust in the skills of your team and your bird. Every time I look at her, I think of how much she impressed us all with her capabilities.?lt;/span>
ABI offers bird training workshops, seminars and consultations. The ranch offers gorgeous vistas and at times can feel miles away from the hustle of urban life. The viewpoints allow novice and expert photographers a great chance of capturing exceptional birds in exceptional settings.
At Avian Behavior International, you have the chance to see birds in flight (and get some great photos too!).
Hankey says that there is usually a member that asks if flying the birds over our ranch the way that they do ever gets old. “I always tell them absolutely not,?she exclaimed. “Whether people are watching the colorful macaws dot the sky or bopping around with Kipling, our goofy, endearing Southern Ground Hornbill, getting to experience birds bursting with enthusiasm and energy like they would in the wild yet at the same time enjoying up close encounters helps us understand how incredibly capable and vibrant they are as beings that deserve our attention.?lt;/span>
She added that even their off-site programs have received feedback that guests came away with a new appreciation for birds. She believes that it may be in part be due not just the engaging nature of their birds themselves, but also having the opportunity to experience them on a sensory level, differently than you would if that bird was on someone? hand or glove the entire time. “We let the birds’ behavior and enthusiasm be part of the dialogue for the educational process,?Hankey said. “And this opens up the conversation for thoughtful questions that help motivate people to change something small in their lives in the name of conservation.?lt;/span>
If you want to stroll with a raven, soar a crane, hike with a hornbill or cover yourself with a flock of parrots, Avian Behavior International should be added to your bucket list. I know it? on my list.
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